Seven stories of apartments, retail pitched near Lehigh University

A Bethlehem historic panel will consider tonight a seven-story apartment and retail building near Lehigh University’s campus in south Bethlehem.

The building, proposed by Lehigh Properties LLC, would include a restaurant or shop topped by six stories of four-bedroom apartments on the block behind W. Fourth Street.

The property, now an unimproved .06-acre lot at 13 W. Morton Street, is sandwiched between popular Lehigh hangouts Tulum’s and Saxby’s and is within a block from the Lehigh’s entrance at Farrington Square.

The proposed structure would be brick and include terraces that hang off the living room of the six apartments, according to the application.

Dallas Basha, who submitted the project and is a 2017 Lehigh graduate, said the apartments would be targeted at students and he hoped the retail portion would become a place that would bring together the Lehigh and rest of the Bethlehem community, he said.

Basha said he would be represented at the meeting by Andrew Twigger, a founder of Dunn Twiggar Co. and an adjunct professor at Lehigh’s College of Business and Economics.

The project comes as Lehigh plans to add another 1,000 undergraduates and 500-800 graduate students over the next seven to eight years.

Lehigh is planning to open a new 400-bed dorm around the corner at W. Packer and Brodhead avenues. A Lehigh spokeswoman said the university is not involved in the Morton Street proposal.

The Morton Street proposal requires a review by the South Bethlehem Historic Conservation Commission because it is located in the local historic district that took shape just blocks away from the former Bethlehem Steel plant.

The commission reviews the project to make sure it is in consistent with other buildings in the neighborhood, and City Council decides whether to issue the project a certificate of appropriateness.

The project is raising some questions with some at Lehigh’s South Side Initiative, a group of Lehigh faculty, students and staff that fosters dialogue on community issues.

Member Breena Holland, a Lehigh professor, said a seven-story “toothpick-like building” behind all of the lovely, historic buildings on Fourth Street seems a bit out of scale.

She compared it to a 9-story building proposed on Vine Street. The commission approved it, but the developer has yet to build it.

“If another out-of-scale building is approved, then people will simply think that scale does not matter,” Holland said. “It will just encourage developers to buy up remaining shorter structures and put more high rises in the heart of the Southside’s commercial core.”

Many of the storefronts include two- and three-story shops, many of which were built between 1895-1950. But the developer in the application photographs of other nearby buildings such as the 13-story Fred B. Rooney building a block away.

Under construction at New and Third street is a six-story office-and-retail buildings developed by Dennis Benner. The building, which will include offices for Lehigh and St. Luke’s University Health Network, is to be connected to a 626-spot garage also under construction there. Benner lopped off a floor of the office building, orginally proposed to be seven stories, after his initial appearance before the historic conservation commission.

Alicia Miller Karner, director of the Bethlehem Community and Economic Development Department, said the administration has had no conversations about the project and does not yet have a position.

Jessica Lee, president of the South Bethlehem Historical Society, which unsuccessfully appealed the nine-story building several years ago, said that she had alerted members to the meeting on the project, but the society has not taken a position.

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